July 12, 2024
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We Count Because We Care: Data-Informed Practices In a Loving Classroom

In Shemot 30:11-16, God commands Moshe to take a census of the Israelites. Only one month later, as recorded in Bamidbar, a full census of all of the tribes is detailed, including the order in which the tribes should camp and march. Why does God ask for so many frequent counts? And why do the details matter so much? Rashi explains that God counts the Israelites because of his great affection for them. The Israelites’ dearness to God drives a need to know all about them. It is critical to Him to check their numbers, account for them, and reflect on how different events have impacted their growth. For educators, data-informed practices reflect a parallel sensibility. In an effort to know and understand the students held so dear, teachers collect, analyze and reflect on how different instructional decisions have and will impact their growth. Like God does with the Israelites, teachers engage in frequent and varied data collection of their students to ensure their proper nurturing.

Informed and intentional data collection is the first step to understanding a person, or student. We see this practice modeled in the beginning of the book of Shemot, when the sons of Jacob who came down to Egypt are identified by group, then listed by name, and finally counted. The process starts by associating the people with a group. They are all members of this community called the sons of Yaacov. The people are examined more closely, then—Who are these people? What are their names? The Torah describes them as individuals, before quantifying them in numbers. Effective and impactful data practices consider students in just these levels. Teachers first see a new classroom of students as part of a group—my first graders, or my advanced math students. Next, they dig deeper, beginning to seek to understand the individual, as a whole child. An excellent teacher seeks to learn about the student as a human. To educate children at the highest level, teachers must continue to gather multiple forms of information. Teachers carefully observe students during academic and social interactions. They take stock of how students engage with different types of content as well as people. They carefully listen to what students say, as well as what they don’t say. They measure their abilities through both informal and formal assessments, summative, as well as formative. And they use standardized assessments, including NWEA’s MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing to build a clear portrait of a child. Teachers learn their students through an ongoing and intensive data collection process.

While data collection can provide a great deal of information, it is through careful analysis that the data becomes meaningful. In Bamidbar, God instructs Moshe to not only count the people, but to record and list each one by name and then manipulate the data to count the number of men above 20. While Moshe’s work would have been far more simple had he utilized a spreadsheet, this data analysis process allowed him to better understand the makeup of the people and make informed decisions for future action. Teachers engage in complex data analysis processes to take a group of students, as they are first viewed, and develop a nuanced understanding of the individuals making up their class. This process then allows teachers to make clear and informed choices to foster their students’ growth.

Once the data has been properly collected and analyzed, action steps can be planned. Only after collecting and analyzing the data does God instruct Moshe to take action steps, to set up camp. Effective and impactful instructional decisions require teachers to collect and analyze data before planning instructional steps. Teachers utilize the information they have learned through data practices to create action plans that meet the specific needs of all of the individuals in their care as well as the group as a whole. Teachers consider how to best move students to reach their full potential through intentional practice grounded firmly in data.

A general and oft-heard objection to quantitative data practices insists that children should be seen as more than simply a number they earn on a test. However, like Rashi explains, these practices appeal to excellent teachers because their students and all of the facets that make them up are dear to them. Data informed instruction allows teachers to engage in the process of learning and understanding their students fully in order to guide them on their individualized growth journey. God clearly models this practice in the Torah as he guides B’nei Yisrael through the journey in the desert. Teachers, too, implement data practices to ensure students are seen, known and valued. They guide students through the journey of education, taking full stock of who they are as individuals before making plans for movement in hopes of ensuring that through their journey and arrival in the Promised Land is filled with productive struggle, appropriate support, and fulfillment.


Gila Ogle is the general studies principal at Westchester Torah Academy. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Columbia University, as well as a master’s degree in secondary social studies curriculum and instruction from CUNY Queens College. She has taught many middle school subjects, including social studies, math and science across the country, in Florida, New York and Massachusetts. She is a proud native of Springfield, Massachusetts, and currently resides in Stamford, Connecticut with her husband and three children, who bring her joy from morning to night, as do the students in her care at WTA.

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